Corpus Christi – You Are What You Eat

Written by Joel on June 9th, 2010

June 6, 2010
Corpus Christi (The Body of Christ)
1 Cor 11:23-26


You’ve heard the saying “You are what you eat.” Eat healthy foods and you will be healthy. Eat unhealthy foods and you will be unhealthy foods. Its a constant reminder that what you put in your mouth can literally shape your body. What might that mean for us, as Christians who celebrate Holy Communion – a sacrament that is eaten, fills our bodies and shapes who we are individually and as a church.

Today we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi which means “The Body of Christ.” We celebrate Holy Communion throughout the year but on this day we give this sacrament our special attention. It is here at this table that we fulfill Christ’s command to “Do this.” We follow in the tradition of the early believers which, as the book of Acts tells us, “they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers…day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.” (Acts 2:42,46)

It has many different names by various Christian traditions. Holy Communion, The Blessed Sacrament, The Lord’s Supper, Ordinance, Eucharist (from the Greek word for giving thanks). The Body of Christ. On this day of the feast of Corpus Christi I want to encourage you to mediate on the meaning of this name for Holy Communion: The Body of Christ.

For the first few years of seminary I attended a rather small Disciple church in Pasadena California. This church made it a habit to have pot luck lunches following Sunday service quite frequently. I don’t think a month went by without a pot luck dinner. If there was a congregational meeting – pot luck lunch; if there was a presentation from the missionary who was giving his report – pot luck lunch; For the guest preacher – pot luck lunch. If there was no reason or occasion to have a pot luck lunch – they had a pot luck lunch.

You know the rules of pot luck. Everyone brings a covered dish to share; enough for about 6-8 people. You had to make it yourself, buying something from the store is cheating. At least buy it from the store and put it on a nice plate. Well, I was in school and had no job. I rode my bicycle everywhere, including to church. Even if I managed to put a simple dish together there was no way I would have be able to bring it with me. Every time pot luck rolled around I had nothing to offer.

But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t welcome – by no means. That’s the other rule of pot luck: everyone is welcome and everyone is fed. Though I showed up empty handed they set me home with all the left overs. A church member or the pastor loaded up my bike in the trunk of their car, along with all the pot-luck left overs and drove me home. The bounty from one of those lunches almost always feed me for a whole week.

The Corinthian Church was not living like the Body of Christ, and their celebration of the Lord’s Supper showed it. Listen to the words Paul has for the Corinthians, which come just before we hear the Words of Institution from our second reading. 1 Corinthians chapter 11, beginning with verse 17:

[Read 1 Cor 11:17-22]

There was a division in the Corinthian church between the wealthy and the poor. The wealthy had to work little and the poor worked long hours. The wealthy got together before they met as a church and had their fill of food and wine. By the time the poor were finished with their long day of work there was little left for them. They were not celebrating the Body of Christ because they were divided. Paul later says, in verse 29 “For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.” Paul tells us that the sin of the Corinthian Christians was a failure to discern the Body of Christ; a failure to recognize the other, weather poor or wealthy, slave or free, male or female, was a brother or sister in the Body of Christ. They failed to eat together, they failed to be the Body.

It is the difference between, as Paul puts it The Lord’s Supper and an individual supper. The Lord’s Super, Holy Communion, Eucharist, is not a Big Mac, Made-to-Order, individually wrapped, fast food, to go; me and my personal relationship with Jesus. No, it is more like the family meal of Thanksgiving (the literal meaning of the word Eucharist). A slow cooked, sit-down, family and community event. At the table where families celebrate their families, and in the eating of Thanksgiving/Eucharist itself creates family.

Saint Augustine, in a sermon to newly baptized Christians, shares these words:

“So how can bread be his body? And what about the cup – how can it (or what it contains) be his blood? My friends, these realities are called sacraments because in them one thing is seen, while another is grasped. What is seen is a mere physical likeness; what is grasped bears spiritual fruit.

So now, if you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the Apostle Paul speaking to the faithful: You are the body of Christ, member for member. If you, therefore, are Christ’s body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying Amen to what you are – your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear “The body of Christ” you reply “Amen.” Be a member of Christ’s body then, so that your Amen may ring true!

But what role does the bread play? We have no theory of our own to propose here; listen, instead to what Paul says about this sacrament: The bread is one, and we, though many are one body….Be what you see; receive what you are.” (Sermon 272)

Being the Body of Christ also implies we continue the work of Christ. Like yeast causes a loaf to grow, we are

called to expand Christs body, drawing in the whole world to his family.

Inviting the World to Dinner

Every Sunday for the past 30 years Jim Haynes hosts a dinner in his home in Paris. People, including total strangers can call or email him to book a spot. The first 50 or 60 people who call can come, double that if the weather is nice and they can overflow into the garden. Each week a different friend prepares the feast. People from all corners of the world come to break bread together, to meet, to talk, to connect and often become friends. All ages, nationalities, races, professions gather here. Recently a dinner featured a typical mix: a Dutch political cartoonist, a beautiful painter from Norway, a truck driver from Arizona, a bookseller from Atlanta, a newspaper editor from Sydney, students from all over, and traveling retirees. Since there is no organized seating, the opportunity for mingling couldn’t be better. He has a good memory, so each week he makes a point to remember everyone’s name on the guest list and where they’re from and what they do, so he can introduce them to each other. If he had his way, Jim says, “I would introduce everyone in the whole world to each other.”

In some ways the Lord’s Supper is like that. It brings together people of all corners of the world, all ages, nationalities, races, and professions. But our Supper goes beyond a casual encounter at an ordinary table. We gather here because Christ makes us one, and through this meal we are made one in his Body.

Soon we will approach our family meal, our Thanksgiving dinner, our expression of family, The Body of Christ.

When you receive the plate, I encourage you not to simply pass it, serve it to your neighbor. Declare “The Body of Christ.” Both in the elements themselves and in your neighbor Be what you see. When you receive the plate I encourage you to not just take. Instead respond “Amen.” Saying that it is true that this is the Body of Christ. Receive what you are. Be the Body of Christ.


Leave a Comment